**Spoiler Alert** Maybe it was because I had just watched Jackie Chan trying to be Mr. Myagi and substituting ‘wax on, wax off’ for ‘pick up the jacket, hang up the jacket, take off the jacket, put it on the ground,’ but I was a bit nervous for Toy Story 3. The preview talked about Andy going off to college and the toys ending up in a day care. I couldn’t help but wonder where they were going to go with the story: after all, Woody and the rest of the toys’ relationships with Andy their kid owner is the ‘big story,’ the overarching narrative that ties everything together. This was the big plot that gave the other little plots context and meaning. What happens when Andy is gone?!
What happens to the story when the characters lose the most important relationship in their lives?
But Pixar pulled it off. Here’s why: In Toy Story 1, Woody’s main goal was to get back to Andy, his owner, his kid, whom he loved and felt needed by. In Toy Story 2 Woody was forced to choose between immortality in a museum with Prospector Pete and a short few more years of getting played with by Andy. He chose Andy.
Toy Story 3 opens up with Andy preparing to leave for college, and Woody looking across Andy’s room and realizing that many of the toys are gone… sold at garage sales, broken, lost, thrown away, and at once the crisis of abandonment is introduced. The toys wind up at Sunnyside Daycare, where apparently the crisis is solved: they get to get played with by hundreds of small children every day! When the glamour wears off and they realize that getting played with by toddlers every day is more of a hazard than it is a joy, the toys discover the true character of Sunnyside from Mr. Pricklepants: a “place of ruin and despair, ruled by an evil bear who smells of strawberries.” Toy Story 3 tells the story of their escape from Sunnyside, their journey back to Andy, and their surprising revelation of the things that matter most in spite of losing what they thought mattered most: being loved by Andy.
But the question that echoes through Toy Story 3 is clear: What do you do when Andy leaves?
The theme of abandonment became a main theme of Toy Story 3. What happens when you lose an important relationship in your life? Most people have gone through this… losing someone you love. Maybe its been through death, through a wounded relationship, through circumstances, or through things outside of your control. What do you do with that? The person with whom you shared life with for so long is gone, and you’re left wondering about the things you could’ve and should’ve said, wishing you could say goodbye one last time…
Without spoiling the story, one of the main truths is that your identity and fulfillment can never be fully met in one relationship. In fact, you can get so blinded by that relationship that you miss out on the family and friends that are surrounding you. Just like the toys discovered that “sticking together” is more important than “being with Andy,” we were never meant to “put all of our eggs in one basket,” thinking that one person can bring ultimate satisfaction. Andy, sooner or later, is going to go off to college… he’s going to outgrow the toys, and the affection, love, and affirmation from whom they crave it all most is gone. When it comes to love, how quickly we can move from pleasure to sorrow, and from laughter to silence! But in a weird way, as illustrated by the conclusion of the film with all the toys sitting with Bonnie (their new owner) on the porch of her house, watching Andy drive off down the road to college, this very fact produces a hope in loss and pain that the pleasures and joys could never quite achieve by themselves. Reminds me of the old George Bernard Shaw quote: “there are two great tragedies in life: one is not to get your hearts’ desire, the other is to get it.”
The truth is that Andy will always grow up and go off to college. We will all experience loss in some way or another, whether through death, conflict, circumstances, through “poisoned waterholes” or “snakes in boots,” or other things that are outside of our control. What’s important is sticking together with our friends and with our families in spite of the losses we all will face, and remembering that God invites us all into a relationship with Him that we will never lose: he isn’t like the Andy’s that grow up and lose interest and go on to other things, but loves us unconditionally and perpetually pursues us with His unrelenting grace to infinity and beyond.